Along with hot chicken and quesabirria, Detroit-style pizza has been one of the biggest food trends to hit the Bay Area in the past couple of years. But in Oakland, Detroit-style rectangular pies, with their characteristic thick crusts and charred, crispy-cheese square edges, have thus far mostly been found at pop-ups and ghost kitchens, or as one option on a broader pizza menu.
That is, until a couple of weeks from now, when the SoMa-based Detroit pizza restaurant Square Pie Guys brings its immensely popular take on the genre to the former Benchmark Pizzeria location in Old Oakland. It’s the brand’s first East Bay expansion, and by all appearances, it will be the city’s first full-fledged, dedicated Detroit-style pizza shop.
Here’s a first look at the new restaurant, which is slated to open on March 1:
While the pandemic has been a disaster for the restaurant industry as a whole, Square Pie Guys has thrived over the course of this past year — thanks in large part to how well its central product translates to takeout and delivery. If anything, the new Oakland shop is even more deliberately adapted for the COVID era, according to co-owners Marc Schechter and Danny Stoller. “We took the things we had to pivot on the fly in SoMa and baked it into the plan,” Schechter says.
The airy, historic dining room lined with floor-to-ceiling picture windows — one of the more charming restaurant spaces in the city — has been configured to optimize the takeout experience. The only furniture, really, is a couple of temporary counters with acrylic shields. The counters are arranged in a diamond shape just inside the entrance, forming a kind of “vestibule,” with one pickup window for regular customers and another for delivery drivers. The idea, Stoller says, is that the roomier setup will mitigate the huge logjam of people picking up food that they’ve experienced in SoMa.
According to Stoller, the restaurant’s first few months will be a “phased rollout,” with sidewalk seating coming first, as soon as they feel it wouldn’t be irresponsible to open things back up. Eventually, the restaurant plans to convert its parking lot into a beer garden that will have additional outdoor seating. Indoor dining with counter service is more of a long-term plan.
Food-wise, the menu will essentially be identical to the one in SoMa, with the exception of Square Pie Guys’ (well-loved) burger, which will remain exclusive to San Francisco. Every three months, the restaurant rolls out a new lineup of seasonal specials — the spring menu will drop at the beginning of April, which means customers will have about a month to snag winter specials like the pizza basketball star Jeremy Lin helped design (topped with pepperoni and green goddess dressing), the beet-centric take on a puttanesca-topped pizza, and the crispy Brussels sprouts — by far their most popular seasonal vegetable, Stoller says.
Schechter and Stoller say they also want the new Oakland restaurant to continue some of the philanthropic and community-oriented efforts that the San Francisco shop was known for. For instance, they’re introducing a new “pay it forward” program that will allow customers to donate to a general pool of money — funds that’ll be used to provide free food for anyone who comes to the restaurant in need of a hot meal.
If there are any food categories that match, or even surpass, the buzziness of Detroit-style pizza in the Bay Area right now, Nashville hot chicken would be a prime contender. Naturally, Square Pie Guys has an Italian-inspired take on that style of fried chicken sandwich on its regular menu. But it’s also bringing Hetchy’s Hots, the restaurant’s online-only hot chicken sandwich shop that it runs inside its SoMa location, to Oakland as well.
Stoller and Schechter say they’ve been tweaking their recipe since they launched the virtual chicken sandwich operation last spring. Among other changes, they say, the five sandwiches on the menu are now all available in an extra-spicy version, for chileheads who crave more heat.
The only major change is that Square Pie Guys inherited a full liquor license for the Oakland location, which means the restaurant will be selling cocktails for the first time ever — for takeout only in the beginning, of course. Schechter says the idea behind the to-go cocktail menu was simply to create drinks that were affordable ($7 to $10 a portion, sold in either two- or four-person bottles) and fun, with a few nods to the restaurant’s identity as a pizza restaurant. For instance, there’s the Bianco Dimary — a take on a bloody mary that comes with pepperoni, mozzarella, and green olives as garnishes.
“We always try to find things that are going to be approachable and then make our twist of them,” Stoller says.
Ultimately, Stoller and Schechter say, the plan was always to open Square Pie Guys in Oakland — even before the San Francisco location came about. Stoller, for his part, has only ever lived in the East Bay since moving to the Bay Area; he lives a 10-minute bike ride away from the Old Oakland restaurant. Much of the restaurant’s upper management team all grew up in the East Bay.
“So we’re just excited to be in Oakland and to try to continue to build community over here,” Stoller says.
Square Pie Guys’ new Oakland location at 499 9th Street opens on March 1; it will be open for takeout and delivery 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily (and until 8 p.m. on Sundays). See the full menu below: